New YorkBarney Savage Gallery
June 1 – July 27, 2019
Viewing Tim Zercie’s cycle of occult-themed stitched fabric wall hangings in his current show, Regenbogenscherben, brought back memories of recent trip to Paris at the end of January, where I spent some time with the “Lady and the Unicorn" (circa 1500) tapestries at The Musée de Cluny. Fabric wall hangings occupy the enigmatic intersection of a multitude of genres: they are practical furniture in terms of being curtains/insulation against the cold, pure architectural decoration, and flat visual art bearing a strong but fraught kinship to painting. In the medieval cycle of six tapestries that comprise “The Lady and the Unicorn,” heraldic devices and hierarchies are in place signifying possession and power; oblique political and historical gestures are being made via the series of female figures juxtaposed with various animals, representing different virtues/seasons/geopolitical entities; and then the space itself is a glorious disembodied zone of patterns and colors that would have been the floor-to-ceiling decoration for the salon or boudoir of a prestigious countess, duchess, even queen. Tim Zercie’s series of mystical panoramas are stitched together from a more fragile medium—patchwork fabric—than those French tapestries, but engage most of the same concepts of composition, hierarchy through pattern and geometry, and poignant self-consciousness. This is art that in both the above cases simultaneously serves a very high and a very basic purpose—and is aware of it.
Regenbogenscherben (“rainbow shards” in German) includes seven hanging works of collaged found fabric, and one fabric print designed by the artist. There is a cycle of five works that present vignettes of a patterned world in which a central form—a sphere or cube—emits vine-like feelers, some vegetal, as in Das Blumenfeuer (The flower fire) (2019) or tentacles with gloved hands, as in Juggling Your Sins During a Jubilee (2019) and Magier im Schlamm (Magician in the Mud) (2019). While weaving, wiggling and twisting forms are not exact replicas of the repetitive motifs found in the brightly patterned textiles themselves, the simple geometry and fantastical undulations of these primary characters— and even more the many-petaled flowers crowned with unblinking eyes in Das Blumenfeuer—are close kin to the paisley, checked, and striped printed textiles that form the underlying substrate for the pieces. The flowers gaze out at you and the gloves—cartoon character like—gesticulate and flick their fingers. The viewer senses that these weird cubes and orbs, like the lions and unicorns of medieval coats of arms, are carriers of some secret history and the enactors of arcane rituals. Zercie uses the lizard-scale textures, iridescence, and narrow rippling bands in his cloth repertoire to heighten the movement of his creations in Juggling Your Sins During a Jubilee. He is dedicated to the flatness of the work, never hiding his stitching or the quilt-like technique. Yet, his tentacled forms do disappear into the surface of the picture plane and then re-emerge in the most basic implication of three dimensions, much the same way that the rabbits, foxes and sparrows of “The Lady and the Unicorn” frolic convincingly in and out of the grass of a make-believe woolen field and emerge from behind topiary fruit trees and bushes. Unlike painting, where one rarely thinks of the wall on which the painting is hung, these magical Tapestries and wall-hangings can never get away from the fact that they dangle, cover and conceal, so both cycles play and pun with the idea that the space they depict is false: they tantalize the viewer with implications of what is happening on the other side.
In The Shine of Atma (2019), Zercie fully embraces the idea of his wall-hanging’s independence from the discipline of flat framed art, by creating two curtains that are meant to be hung free in space. In this installation they are draped in front of the gallery windows and billow gently in the breeze from the outside. Like the rest of the works in the show, they are stitched together of thin semi-transparent printed fabric, and various striations of color and pattern criss-cross the two works (they are meant to be viewed as a pair). The two rectangular curtains become surrogates for the imaginary windows they shield from our eyes, offering a counterfeit alien landscape while still allowing a glimmer of light from behind to slip through. Unlike the other stationary works, The Shine of Atma removes itself from the context of an art object and instead forces us to look more carefully at that intersection that all these demi-practical fabric works inhabit. The medieval tapestries depicting heraldic pageantry, the Persian rugs offering a glimpse of the gardens of paradise, and Zercie’s own phantasmagoric menagerie of pattern-sprung-to-life are a demesne of geometric, repetitive woven distraction hiding in plain sight.